LET US BREAK BREAD TOGETHER:
by Lawrence Holben
ALL SAINTS’ EPISCOPAL CHURCH
1350 Waller Street San Francisco, CA 94117
THE EUCHARISTIC LITURGY
(A Brief Step-by-Step Introduction to the Solemn Mass)
Although sometimes referred to as the “Prelude,” the organ voluntary is in fact our first act of worship, not something that precedes it. The voluntary serves to draw us together and focus us toward our common intent; it is an offering of beauty to the God who created music as a gift to us; and it also sets the tone of the service, whether festal, penitential or reflective.
At the close of the voluntary, a single bell is rung, indicating that the processional is about to begin. We stand.
THE WORD OF GOD
On a practical level, a procession is merely an orderly way for those leading our worship (the “ministers”) to enter the sanctuary. The procession does not usually take the shortest route, however, but rather moves to the back of the church and then down the central aisle to symbolize the fact that these ministers represent us all, coming to the altar from among us.
Except on certain penitential days, a hymn is sung during the processional and the asperges that follow.
After the ministers enter the sanctuary, the celebrant sprinkles the altar with holy water and then, accompanied by the deacon and lay minister, returns down the central aisle and sprinkles the congregation. This recalls our baptism and serves as a form of blessing. The term “asperges” is the first Latin word of the psalm that once was chanted during this act: “Thou wilt wash [me with hyssop and I shall be clean]. “
Identifying and praising the God whom we come to worship, the acclamation is chanted between priest and people.
Collect for Purity.
One of the great treasures of Anglican liturgical writing, this simple prayer reminds us of God’s absolute awareness of all our thoughts and desires, and asks that our minds may be cleansed so that we may love and worship God with integrity. Omitted on festal occasions.
The song of praise which follows is traditionally the Gloria in Excelsis, an ancient hymn that begins with the words St. Luke’s gospel ascribes to angels celebrating the birth of Jesus at Bethlehem. Other hymns or canticles of similar theme may be substituted. During this song of praise, the priest circles the altar with the deacon and lay minister, censing it as a symbol of purification, honor, and blessing. In penitential seasons, the Gloria is replaced by the Kryie (“Lord, have mercy”). .
Collect of the Day
In an intoned exchange, priest and people invoke God’s blessing and the priest then intones the collect of the day. This brief prayer “collects” the primary themes of the Scripture readings into a petition for the people gathered for worship. We signify our assent to this prayer (and others) by “Amen,” a Hebrew word meaning “so be it.”
The first reading, for which the congregation sits, is generally from the Old Testament, occasionally from the Apocrypha, and a very few times in the church year from a New Testament book. It is usually read by a member of the congregation. At its conclusion, the reader proclaims “The Word of the Lord” and the congregation responds “Thanks be to God. “
The Old Testament book of Psalms was the hymnal of the ancient Israelites and has been used by Christians from the earliest days of the church.
At All Saints’, the general practice is for the choir to chant the verses of the psalm, with the congregation singing a refrain which is a musical setting of one line from the text. This refrain and its melody are usually printed in the service bulletin. We remain seated for the singing of the Psalm.
The second reading is almost always from one of the New Testament Epistles — letters written by various early Christian leaders to individuals, churches or groups of believers. It is usually read by the lay minister, the third member of the “altar party” (the vested ministers at the Holy Table) who assists the priest and the deacon in the celebration.
As at the conclusion of the first reading, the reader proclaims “The Word of the Lord” and the congregation responds “Thanks be to God.”
“Sequence” is the English translation of a Latin term that originally related to the musical form of the chant used for the end of the Gospel Alleluia that follows. It was eventually transferred as a name for the chant or hymn sung between the Epistle and that Alleluia.
While the congregation stands and sings this hymn, the celebrant readies fresh incense and blesses the deacon for the proclamation of the Gospel. A procession is then formed in front of the altar.
Alleluia/Proclamation of the Gospel
As a symbol of the centrality of the Gospel to the church’s life, the reading from one of the four gospels is done from the center of the church, in the midst of the people standing, and with great ceremonial.
While the ministers process to the center of the church, cantor and people sing the Alleluia and an interpolated verse of Scripture relating to the theme of the Gospel to be read. “Alleluia” is an ancient Hebrew “praise-shout” which has no exact translation; an English equivalent would be “Praise be to God. “
As the deacon announces the gospel, we may make the threefold sign of the cross on brow, lips and heart. The congregation then acclaims: “Glory to you, Lord Christ!” and the deacon censes the Book of the Gospels as a sign of its dignity and significance. At the end of the reading, the deacon kisses and elevates the book and the people acclaim: “Praise to you, Lord Christ!”
Sometimes called a “homily,” the sermon takes the Word of God proclaimed in Scripture and applies it to our lives in the present.
Our response to the Word of God read, proclaimed and preached is to stand and profess our faith in the words of the Creed. This fourth century statement of the core of the apostolic faith is the result of several councils of the entire church. While unequivocally affirming the truth of the Creed, Anglicans grant a certain latitude in the interpretation of its language, which is variously historical, metaphorical and mythopoetic, pointing to realities that are ultimately beyond human articulation.
Prayers of the People
In these prayers, we remember not only our own immediate concerns but also church leaders and ministers, civic leaders, and areas of strife, suffering or disaster around the world.
Most often read by a member of the congregation, these prayers also include petitions for certain groups within the Anglican Communion, for the sick, for the dead, and for other special intentions.
The response to the petitions is printed in the bulletin. There is also a brief time of silence· when members of the congregation ilre invited to add their own intercessions either silently or aloud. Intercessions made aloud are customarily limited to the name of the person being remembered. The celebrant closes the prayers witl1 a final prayer that “collects” the general concerns of the petitions.
Confession and Absolution
While private confession is available and encouraged in the Episcopal Church (an appointment for confession and/or spiritual direction may be arranged through a call to the church office), corporate confession serves as a reminder that we all come to our worship in need of God’s mercy and forgiveness. We kneel as a symbol of our penitence and humility before the awesome goodness of a God who stands ready to forgive us again and again.
By virtue of their ordination, priests are given authority to pronounce God’s forgiveness on all who sincerely repent. In the absolution, the priest does not forgive us. Rather, he or she proclaims forgiveness in the name of God and God’s church.
Peace (“Shalom” in Hebrew) is to the Judea-Christian tradition a positive concept including righteousness, plenty, justice and love–in short, “all things in order as they were created to be.” Therefore, wben the priest greets us with “The peace of the Lord be always with you” and we reply, “And also with you,” we are calling down upon each other the blessings of the Eternal Reign of God.
Various practices are equally appropriate in sharing the peace among ourselves. Some prefer to embrace, others to shake hands. Some use the formal “Peace be with you,” others a more informal greeting. Your own choice should be governed by what seems most natural to you.
At the conclusion of the Peace, the celebrant offers an informal welcome and makes any necessary announcements regarding events in the life of the parish.
THE HOLY COMMUNION
The definite break between the two parts of the service that occurs at this point is indicated by the celebrant removing the cope (ceremonial cape) he or she has worn through the Liturgy of the Word and replacing it with the chasuble (a sleeveless, yoke-shaped garment). At the same time, the deacon and lay minister prepare the Holy Table, greeters take up the alms basins and the choir begins an anthem or chant.
Offertory and Presentation
The offering of money is not seen by Christians as the “price of admission” to a church service. Christian stewardship of our earthly goods is one part of the total self-offering to which discipleship calls us.
In the offertory procession, representatives of the congregation -bring forward not only the gifts of money (sometimes called “alms”) but the bread and wine (the “oblations”) which will be consecrated for the Communion.
Centuries ago, the offerings were often “in kind”–fruits of the field,
produce, sometimes live animals–brought to be distributed to the poor
by the deacons. Traces of this practice remain in the ceremonial: the
deacon and lay minister first accept the offerings; after receiving the
gifts from them, the priest washes his or her hands (originally a very . practical act, now a symbolic one).
The gifts are censed in blessing and then the altar is again censed. Finally, clergy and people are censed, symbolizing our being cleansed and set apart for the holy purpose of remembering and making present the central act of our redemption.
The Eucharistic Prayer
The Eucharistic Prayer (or Canon of the Mass) is the heart of the liturgy. The Prayer Book offers four different forms for this prayer, lettered A -D. The form to be used in a particular liturgy is listed in the service bulletin, although it is usually preferable to listen to and pray with the celebrant without reference to the book. (Occasionally we use supplemental forms more recently approved by the Standing Liturgical Committee.)
The Eucharistic Prayer begins with a brief dialogue between priest and people in which we are invited to be joyful in our worship (“Lift up your hearts! “). This dialogue is often called the “Sursum Corda, II a phrase which is simply its first two words in Latin.
The Eucharistic Prayer falls into three basic parts. The first section especially praises God the Creator. The Preface intoned by the priest focuses that praise on the special themes of the day, after which we sing the Sanctus (“Holy, holy, holy”) an acclamation drawn from both the Old Testament book of Isaiah and the New Testament Apocalypse of S1. John. In both texts, these words are attributed to the heavenly hosts worshipping before the throne of God.
To the Sanctus is appended the brief Benedictus (“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord”), the acclamation of the crowds to Jesus as he entered Jerusalem in triumph on Palm Sunday. This turns our attention God the Redeemer as we move into the second section of the canon, the Consecration, for which we kneel:
In the second section of the Eucharistic Prayer,
the focus is primarily on Jesus. His institution of the Breaking of Bread
at the Last Supper is remembered in words based on St. Paul’s
description of this event in one of his letters, after which we proclaim . together one of several acclamations.
Immediately following the acclamation, the focus of the third section of the Eucharistic Prayer turns to the Holy Spirit, whose blessing is invoked upon the bread and wine and the people gathered around the Holy Table in Christ’s name.
The Eucharistic Prayer concludes with a solemn, iiltoned declaration that it is through Christ, with him and in him that we make this offering and remembrance. The congregation responds with the Great Amen, in which we affirm our participation in the prayers of the celebrant.
The celebrant then displays the consecrated elements to the people for veneration as sign and sacrament of the new covenant binding us to God through Jesus. At the same time, they are censed in recognition and honor of the Real Presence of Christ in them.
Following the grandeur of the consecration and elevation, the simple words of the prayer Jesus taught his disciples are sung.
With silence underscoring the solemnity of the moment; the celebrant lifts a special, large host (communion wafer) and breaks it, reminding us that Jesus, the “bread of life,” was broken on the cross for our redemption. In response, choir and congregation sing one of several Fraction Anthems–brief musical settings of Scripture-based texts expressing the significance of this act.
After the celebrant invites us to communion with the proclamation that these gifts of God are for us, God’s people, the bread and wine are distributed, first to the ministers in the sanctuary, then to the congregation. Ushers will direct you to the sanctuary. Generally, we go forward for communion by the central aisle and return to our places by the side aisles.
Reception of Communion.
There are several equally appropriate modes for reception of communion. If you prefer to kneel, the two sides of the sanctuary are equipped with cushions and rails. If you prefer to stand, you may line up along the front step.
As for the bread, the Body of Christ, the most common method of reception is to extend both hands, one cupped in the other, palm up. The minister will place the host in your hand with one of several statements affirming what it is you are receiving, to which the customary response is “Amen.” You then consume the host.
An alternative mode is to leave your hands at your sides or clasp them at your waist. The minister will hold the host before you and state the communion affirmation,. to which you respond “Amen,” opening your mouth and slightly extending your tongue, allowing the minister to place the host upon it.
A second minister will follow with the wine, the Blood of Christ. The most common method of reception is to take a sip of wine from the chalice. The minister will extend the cup with a brief statement of what is offered, to which you again respond “Amen.” It is important to assist the minister by placing one hand on the base and the other on the bowl of the chalice and gently directing it to your lips, releasing it once you have communicated.
Alternatively, you may communicate by intinction–in which the host is dipped into the wine and both are consumed together. If this is your choice, receive the bread in your hand and leave it there for the minister of the chalice to take, dip in the cup and place on your tongue.
The Episcopal Church teaches that Christ is fully present both in the bread and in the wine after consecration, so that partaking of either constitutes afull and valid communion. Therefore, if for medical or other reasons you choose not to receive from the cup at all, simply cross your arms upon your breast after receiving the bread. The minister of the chalice will lift the cup before you with the communion affirmation, to which you respond “Amen.”
Who May Receive Communion. At All Saints’ anyone who desires to grow in the love and knowledge of God is welcome to receive communion, regardless of denominational membership or sacramental status. Children of all ages are also welcome, as the Episcopal Church does not observe a “First Communion,” nor does it require confirmation as a prerequisite for sharing in the sacrament of the altar.
Once all have been communicated and the altar cleared, priest and people kneel and together pray one of two brief prayers of thanksgiving. The page number for this prayer will be given in the service bulletin.
In the name of the Holy Trinity, the celebrant solemnly blesses the people.
A closing hymn is sung as the altar party processes to the rear of the church.
The deacon intones a brief phrase sending us out into the world to live the truth we have shared around God’s Table. We respond “Thanks be to God!” for the gifts we have received.
As the organist plays the postlude, the altar party and the choir process out. Congregational practice varies considerably at this point. Some prefer to remain standing until the procession has left the church. Others take this opportunity to kneel for a final private prayer. Music lovers sometimes sit until the postlude is completed; others prefer to leave during it or greet their neighbors. You should feel free to do whatever is most natural for you.
A special prayer and anointing for healing (of body, mind, or spirit) is available after the 10:00 a.m. Sunday Solemn Mass. If you wish such prayer and anointing (in which holy oil is placed on the forehead in the sign of the cross), you may come forward and either kneel at the side of the sanctuary or stand at its step.
[NOTE: This document is undated. This version complied 26 Nov 2010.]